Asexuality describes individuals who do not experience sexual attraction and is considered a sexual orientation. Asexuality as a human sexual orientation has only been recognized and defined in a few academic studies since the late 1970s, and a community of self-identified asexuals has only coalesced since the start of the 21st century, aided by the widening popularity of online communities. One commonly cited study placed the incidence rate of asexuality at 1%.
Although researchers in human sexuality have known about the existence of asexuality since at least the late 1940s, little research has been done. Most of this has been recent and there is increasing interest in the subject.
Alfred Kinsey was aware of an asexual element in the population but did little to investigate it. His Kinsey scale of sexual orientation consisted of a single axis lying between heterosexuality and homosexuality with bisexuality in between, and thus left no place for asexuality. In the Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953, subjects were scaled from 0 (completely heterosexual) to 6 (completely homosexual), but a separate category of X was created for those with "no socio-sexual contacts or reactions". He labeled 1.5% of the adult male population as "X"
In "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female," he further explained the category as people who "do not respond erotically to either heterosexual or homosexual stimuli, and do not have overt physical encounter with individuals of either sex in which there is evidence of any response.” The following percentages of the population assigned“X:” Unmarried females=14-19%. Married females= 1-3%. Previously married females=5-8%. Unmarried males=3-4%. Married males=0%. Previously married males=1-2%.
A 1977 paper entitled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, may be the first explicitly devoted to asexuality in humans. Johnson defines asexuals as those men and women "who, regardless of physical or emotional condition, actual sexual history, and marital status or ideological orientation, seem to prefer not to engage in sexual activity." She contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman...has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman...recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by asexual/autoerotic women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are nonexistent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and feminist movement. Society either ignores or denies their existence, or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.
In a study published in 1979 in Advances in the Study of Affect vol. 5 and in another article using the same data published in 1980 in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," Michael D. Storms of the University of Kansas outlined his own reimagining of the Kinsey scale. Whereas Kinsey measured sexual orientation based on a combination of actual sexual behavior and fantasizing and eroticism, Storms only used fantasizing and eroticism. Storms, however, placed hetero-eroticism and homo-eroticism on separate axes rather than at two ends of a single scale; this allows for a distinction between bisexuality (exhibiting both hetero- and homo-eroticism in degrees comparable to hetero- or homosexuals, respectively) and asexuality (exhibiting a level of homo-eroticism comparable to a heterosexual, and a level of hetero-eroticism comparable to a homosexual: namely, little to none). Storms conjectured that many researchers following Kinsey's model could be mis-categorizing asexual subjects as bisexual, because both were simply defined by a lack of preference for gender in sexual partners.
The first study that gave empirical data about asexuals was published in 1983 by Paula Nurius, concerning the relationship between sexual orientation and mental health. Unlike previous studies on the subject, she used the above-mentioned two-dimensional model for sexual orientation. 689 subjects—most of whom were students at various universities in the United States taking psychology or sociology classes—were given several surveys, including four clinical well-being scales and a survey asking how frequently they engaged in various sexual activities and how often they would like to engage in those activities. Based on the results, respondents were given a score ranging from 0-100 for hetero-eroticism and from 0-100 for homo-eroticism. Respondents who scored lower than 10 on both were labeled "asexual." This consisted of 5% of the males and 10% of the females. Results showed that asexuals were more likely to have low self-esteem and more likely to be depressed than members of other sexual orientations. 25.88% of heterosexuals, 26.54% bisexuals (called "ambisexuals"), 29.88% of homosexuals, and 33.57% of asexuals were reported to have problems with self-esteem. A similar trend existed for depression. Nurius did not believe that firm conclusions can be drawn from this for a variety of reasons. Asexuals also reported much lower frequency and desired frequency of a variety of sexual activities including having multiple partners, anal sexual activities, having sexual encounters in a variety of locations, and autoerotic activities.
Further empirical data about an asexual demographic appeared in 1994, when a research team in the United Kingdom carried out a comprehensive survey of 18,876 British residents, spurred by the need for sexual information in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. The survey included a question on sexual attraction, to which 1.05% of the respondents replied that they had "never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." This phenomenon was seized upon by the Canadian sexuality researcher Dr. Anthony Bogaert in 2004, who explored the asexual demographic in a series of studies. However, he believed that the figure 1% is probably too low. 30% of people contacted chose not to answer the survey. Since less sexually experienced people are more likely to refuse to participate in studies about sexuality, and asexuals tend to be less sexually experienced than non-asexuals, it is likely that asexuals were overrepresented in the 30% who did not participate. The same study found the number of gay males, lesbians and bisexuals combined to be about 1.1% of the population, which is much smaller than other studies indicate. The 1% statistic from the UK survey is the one most frequently quoted as the possible incidence of asexuality in the general population, though it should be considered very tentative. Assuming this statistic holds true, the world population of asexual people would stand at over 60 million.
The Kinsey Institute sponsored another small survey on the topic in 2007, which found that self-identified asexuals "reported significantly less desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousability, and lower sexual excitation but did not differ consistently from non-asexuals in their sexual inhibition scores or their desire to masturbate".
Another study with both quantitative and qualitative sections has been done recently, but the results have not yet been published, though some of the results can be found online.
Though comparisons with non-human sexuality are problematic, a series of studies done on ram mating preferences at the United States Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, starting in 2001 found that about 2–3% of the animals being studied had no apparent interest in mating with either sex; the researchers classified these animals as asexual, but found them to be otherwise healthy with no recorded differences in hormone levels.
Dr. Elizabeth Abbot, author of A History of Celibacy, acknowledges a difference between asexuality and celibacy and posits that there has always been an asexual element in the population but that asexual people kept a low profile. While failure to consummate marriage was seen as "an insult to the sacrament of marriage" in medieval Europe, asexuality, unlike homosexuality, has never been illegal, and asexual people have been able to "fly under the radar". However, in the 21st century the anonymity of online communication and general popularity of social networking online has facilitated the formation of a community built around a common asexual identity.
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was founded in 2001 with two primary goals: to create public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and to facilitate the growth of an asexual community. Since that time it has grown to host the world’s largest online asexual community, serving as an informational resource and meeting place for people who are asexual and questioning, their friends and families, academic researchers and the press. The network has additional satellite communities in ten languages. Members of AVEN have been involved in media coverage spanning television, print, and radio, and participate in lectures, conferences and Pride events around the world.
As an emerging identity with a broad definition, there is an enormous amount of variation among people who identify as asexual. Some asexuals may masturbate as a solitary form of release, while others do not feel a need to. The need or desire for masturbation is commonly referred to as a "sex drive" and is disassociated from sexual attraction; asexuals who masturbate consider it to be a normal product of the human body and not a sign of latent sexuality. Asexuals also differ in their feelings towards performing sex acts: some are indifferent and may even have sex for the benefit of a partner, while others are more strongly averse to the idea.
Asexuals may experience romantic attraction, or the desire for, fantasy of, or propensity towards romantic love, often directed at people of genders falling within an affectional orientation. Many asexuals also identify as straight, gay, or bi, using the terms in a strictly affectional sense, or alternatively as hetero-, homo-, or bi-romantic. Some asexuals identify as "aromantic." A relationship between an asexual and a sexual person may or may not involve sexual activity.
If an asexual individual's lack of sexual desire or response does cause dysfunction in a relationship with a sexual person, it is medically defined as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder or Sexual Aversion Disorder. One of the criteria for HSDD is that the low sexual desire causes personal distress or interpersonal difficulties and appropriate treatment most commonly consists of a broad range of tailored counseling. Thus these designations do not define asexuality itself as a disorder, but rather describe the problems asexual people often face coping with relationships and personal development.
It is important to note that asexual romantic or romance-like relationships are not limited to asexual individuals, but can be formed between sexual but sexually incompatible partners. For instance, two highly heterosexual men could establish a strong relationship (based on personality etc.) involving elements of physical intimacy such as hugging or snuggling, but no sex.
As there is still little scholarly or scientific discussion of asexuality as an orientation, and low awareness of asexuality in public discourse, alternative explanations are commonly raised in discussion of asexuality in media coverage and by friends and family of asexual individuals. Among academics, there has been a little work arguing for understanding asexuality as a sexual orientation, but so far no books or papers have been published arguing otherwise. So far, there is not enough research to form an academic majority opinion. The following critiques may be directed at individuals or at some element of the community as a whole.
- A lack of sexual feelings can result from medical or psychological issues such as endocrine imbalances, certain tumors of the pituitary gland, Asperger syndrome, Schizoid personality disorder or other autism, anorexia or bulimia, or the lasting effects of childhood sexual abuse. A temporary loss of libido is also associated with depression and the effects of certain medications. *Asexual people, particularly younger individuals identifying as asexual, may not have reached a stage of self-awareness and overall psychosocial development to have discovered the full range of their sexuality. This is commonly phrased as being "too young" or "a late bloomer" (in reference to the onset of puberty). Young people who settle on an asexual identity before fully exploring sex may be restricting themselves and their sexual development.
- An asexual person may have a latent sexuality that will be awakened by a suitable romantic or sexual partner. This is commonly phrased as "not having met the right person".(But is probably just demisexuality)
Any of the above may hold true for some individuals in the community, but asexuals object to the categorization of asexuality itself as a pathological state. The lack of research into the subject makes it impossible to estimate what percentages of self-described asexuals, if any, might fall into the above categories. However, this same lack of research also makes it impossible to refute the possibility that asexuality may be a symptom of other conditions, pathologies, or psychological or physiological disorders.
- Edward Gorey, writer and illustrator. Gorey never married or had any known romantic relationships, and responded to an interviewer's questioning of his sexual orientation with, "I'm neither one thing nor the other particularly ... I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something." He agreed with the interviewer's suggestion that the "sexlessness" of his books was "a product of his asexuality".
- Keri Hulme, author of The Bone People, winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, discussed asexuality and her involvement with AVEN in a 2007 interview.
- Karl Lagerfeld German fashion designer.
- Nikola Tesla
- Affectional orientation
- Platonic love
- Sexless marriage
- Westphal, Sylvia Pagan (2004). Feature: Glad to be asexual. New Scientist. Retrieved on 11 November 2007.
- Study: One in 100 adults asexual. CNN.com. Retrieved on 11 November 2007.
- Prause, Nicole; Cynthia A. Graham (August 2004). "Asexuality: Classification and Characterization". Archives of Sexual Behavior 36: 341–356. doi: Retrieved on 31 August, 2007.
- Kinsey, Alfred C. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. W.B. Saunders. ISBN 0-253-33412-8.
- Kinsey, Alfred C. (1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. W.B. Saunders. ISBN 0-253-33411-X.
- "Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups" found in ed. Gochros, H.L.; J.S. Gochros (1977). The Sexually Oppressed. Associated Press. ISBN 9780809619153
- Storms, Michael D. (1979). "Sexual Orientation and Self-Perception." ed. Pliner, Patricia et al. Advances in the Study of Communication and Affect. Volume 5: Perception of Emotion in Self and Others Plenum Press
- Storms, Michael D. (1980). "Theories of Sexual Orientation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 38: 783-792.
- Nurius, Paula "Mental Health Implications of Sexual Orientation" The Journal of Sex Research 19 (2) pp.119-136
- Wellings, K. (1994). Sexual Behaviour in Britain: The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Penguin Books.
- Bogaert, Anthony F. (2004). " Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample". Journal of Sex Research 41 (3): 281 Retrieved on 31 August 2007.
- Bogaert, Anthony F. (2006). "Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality". Review of General Psychology 10 (3): 241-250 Retrieved on 31 August 2007.
- Roselli, Charles A. (2002). "Relationship of serum testosterone concentrations to mate preferences in rams". Biology of Reproduction 67: 263–268. doi: . PMID 12080026 Retrieved on 31 August, 2007.
- Stellflug, J.N. (2006). "Comparison of cortisol, luteinizing hormone, and testosterone responses to a defined stressor in sexually inactive rams and sexually active female-oriented and male-oriented rams". Journal of Animal Science 84: 1520–1525. PMID 16699109 Retrieved on 31 August, 2007.
- Duenwald, Mary (2005-06-09), “For Them, Just Saying No Is Easy”, The New York Times, <http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/09/fashion/thursdaystyles/09asexual.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5088&en=520063b1b0fd9ad7&ex=1275969600&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss>. Retrieved on 17 September 2007
- About AVEN. Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Retrieved on 2007-09-17.
- AVEN Homepage. Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Retrieved on 2007-09-17.
- About Asexuality. Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Retrieved on 2007-09-18.
- Frequently Asked Questions. Asexualove.net (2005-01-09). Retrieved on 2007-09-18.
- American Psychiatric Association (2000): "The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (4th ed. text rev.), Washington DC.
- Melby, Todd (2005). "Asexuality gets more attention, but is it a sexual orientation?". Contemporary Sexuality 39 (11): 1–5.
- Gorey, Edward (2002). Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey. Harvest Books. ISBN 978-0156012911.
- Bridgeman, Shelley (2007-08-05), “No Sex Please, We're Asexual”, The New Zealand Herald, <http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/6/story.cfm?c_id=6&objectid=10455823>. Retrieved on 31 August 2007
- AVEN: Asexual Visibility and Education Network
- ASEXUALITIC Community: Free community website to find Friends or romance
- "The Fourth Way", Fyne Times Gay and Lesbian Magazine
- Study: One in 100 Adults Asexual
- AVENTube, a group of asexuals on youtube with videos about asexuality
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